The 360 degree feedback method was introduced somewhere in the 1950s and is still chart-topping more than 7 decades after. While it does provide a value, there are things to consider before using it.
The main point is bias and reasoning behind someone’s opinion. Even though this method is considered by many as non biased as there are many participants who provide feedback.
But look at this from a team’s perspective, not a theoretical one. You have certain people and everyone with certain reasoning. So when you ask for a feedback in a form of 360 degree you can do the following:
- You can support the coalition and not necessarily you know about the existence of one. In some cases it may be good, in some cases it may be something you would not like to happen, it all depends on a situation. But what for sure is important to keep in mind here is that you may skip your conscious decision and let the coalition decide no matter whether you know about it or not. What exactly can it look like? A group of people from your team unite with some opinion and try to rub out the different opinions. Someone eventually appears in the minority with many people around providing negative feedback via the 360 degree tool. And often in those situations the minority leaves, and not always for good. All depends. Important to keep your eyes open.
- You can encourage a culture of complaint. When done regularly, 365 degree feedback is simply convenient for this. And human nature will add on it as it is easier to find something you don’t like without giving it a thought to find someone else’s reasons. This may not happen in 100% of cases of course, but be aware that this is a likely situation.
- You can make a decision based on unprofessional opinions. This can be relevant when you include the diverse team into the 360 degree feedback, when a QA engineer provides feedback about an artist or python developer. Not always they know the situation their colleague is in nor understand fully all the details. On the contrary, the manager has much more to say about it.
- You can make decisions based on the wrong interpretation. When one team member downgrades a colleague because of the lack of understanding of the colleague’s actions. What if it was a management decision and the colleague simply followed them? But negative reviews pile up with similar misunderstandings and then the full picture may be very far from the origin.
And it is still a very useful instrument. What? Right, but we need to be aware of possible pitfalls and overcome them.
How do you use 360 degree feedback and skip the harm?
I usually use it among people who are in a direct line of management, or among people whom I know and with whom I can speak naturally and actually speak at least from time to time. And it is never a written form, it is actually embedded into a regular conversation, usually one-on-one.
It is quite simple to understand if there are real problems when you simply speak to people. This especially works well when you have built a rapport and trust. Then you do not need to ask questions in the form “Tell me what you think about Max” but rather ask what were the mutual activities and how it was etc. and then complete your “form” in your head or make notes after the conversation. Don’t forget to adjust everything according to possible bullets from the list above, so you only keep what matters and verified by you – a person responsible for the team, the manager.
I believe that this way managers can get higher quality results compared to the standard 360-degree feedback form and skip the possible downsides.